Letters of the Smith and Robinson Families

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Incomplete but very interesting series of family letters primarily relating to exchanges of news about other members of the family including updates on their health, work and activities

Administrative / Biographical History

David Smith (b.1781) was a wheelwright in Skipton, in the West Riding. With his wife Susan (1771-1841) he had two sons, Thomas (1816-1847) and John (d.1848). John was also a wheelwright and the earliest letters in this collection were written by John and his wife Hannah Holdsworth (d.1848) after they left Skipton and moved firstly to Dumfries, and then to Queenwood, Stockbridge in Hampshire. Queenwood was the most important Owenite community established in this country, and the Smiths were amongst its earliest members. The letter of 20 January 1840 indicates that they had recently moved to Queenwood with their son Joseph (1832-1857) and daughter Susannah (Susan) (1838-1902). Their son Robert Guyer Smith was born around 1840 whilst they were living there. The main building on the site, Harmony Hall, was completed in 1841 at a cost of £30,000 - 'C.M. 1841' on the building indicated that this year was taken by the Owenites as the commencement of a new millenium. However the community did not have enough capital to sustain spending on this scale and the poor quality of the land in the region meant that farming was not profitable enough to meet the rent. The community collapsed in August 1845 when its members were evicted and the buildings were leased to the Quaker George Edmondson and used as an agricultural college. Queenwood College is famous for its association with the natural philosopher John Tyndall (1820-1893), who was the first Superintendent of its Engineering Laboratory. There are no letters during the period after October 1840 until January 1846, but the Smiths are listed as members of the community until March 1845 (Royle: 1998, table 4). The last letter from John Smith is dated to 1847 and at some point after this, John and Hannah emigrated to America to settle at another Owenite community. Their oldest child stayed behind at school in England. John, Hannah and their son Robert died during the journey, having reached St. Louis, Missouri, and their daughter Susan had to return to England. She lived in Manchester for most of her adult life and married John Robinson (1833-1905) in 1875. They had one son, Robert Guyer Robinson (1876-1948), who was born in Folkestone. The majority of these letters reveal Susan's relationships with her maternal aunts, Judith Hartley (1825-1917), who was married to Richard Hartley (1825-1891), a farmer in Lothersdale, and Mary Scowcroft (1821-1897), who was married to James Hamer Scowcroft (1810-1897), a vicar at St. Matthew's church, Birmingham. There is also news of her maternal uncle John Holdsworth (1811-1882), vicar of Lothersdale, and his wife Elizabeth Hirst (1825-1882), known as aunt Bessy. Samuel Robinson was John Robinson's son by Martha Emily Harris and he made contact with his stepbrother in 1897.

Note: this description was compiled with information from David Robinson

Arrangement

U DX300/1-6 Letters to David Smith from John and Hannah Smith, mainly relating to their time at an Owenite community in Hampshire, 1838-1847

U DX300/7-30 Letters to Susannah Smith (later Robinson), 1851-1883

U DX300/31-32 Letters to Robert Robinson from Samuel Robinson, 1897

U DX300/33 Transcripts

Conditions Governing Access

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Conditions Governing Use

David Robinson

Custodial History

Held within the family until donation to Hull University Archives by David Robinson, Salford, 12 September 2006

Bibliography

  • George Jacob Holyoake, Sixty years of an agitator's life (Fisher Unwin, 1892), ch.XXXVII, 'A visit to the last community (1843)'
  • Edward Royle, Robert Owen and the commencement of the millenium (Manchester University Press, 1998)